Without a doubt, the F-4 Phantom is among the finest fighters of the 20th century. Officially known as the McDonnell Douglas F4-Phantom II, the F-4 Phantom is legendary.
Iconic in the Vietnam War, it became the design standard for several third-generation fighters which entered service during the 1960s. It went on over the years to gather a number of nicknames including the “Flying Brick,” “Double Ugly,” “Rhino,” and the “Big Iron Sled.”
The F-4 Phantom is a heavy supersonic fighter developed for the U.S. by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. It came to the fore as a tandem, double-seat, twin-engine, weather-independent, supersonic aircraft, breaking onto the scene with a dazzling top speed of Mach 2.2–twice the speed of sound.
It was first adopted by the U.S. Navy when it entered service in 1960, proved to be very flexible, and was then adopted by the U.S. Air Force. By 1965, it had established itself as a major element in U.S. air wings.
The F-4 Phantom interceptor is a large jet, with a carrying capacity of 18,000 pounds of weapons such as air-to-surface missiles, air-to-air missiles, and other bombs, on nine external hardpoints. The earliest versions of the Phantom came without internal cannons, which was common among the interceptors of its time. Later versions such as the F-110 Spectre and F-4C, D, and E saw the installation of the M61 Vulcan rotary cannon.
The Phantom held a total of 16 world records for in-flight performance in absolute speed, and absolute altitude. Some of its speed records remained unbroken until 1975, with the advent of the F-15 eagle.
Being versatile, it played very extensive roles in the Vietnam War. It was used by both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force as an Air Superiority Fighter, zapping into enemy airspace and effectively seizing it. It would also turn out to be a crucial element for ground attacks, owing to its precision. Late in the war, it was used for aerial reconnaissance.
During the Vietnam War, the Phantom achieved the distinction of being the last U.S. fighter to be flown by pilots who attained ‘ace’ status.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Phantom continued to be a major part of U.S. military air power, until it was gradually replaced by the more modern F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-14 Tomcat, and F/A-18 Hornet aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps’ respective aviation forces.
During the 1991 Gulf War, Phantoms played a role in reconnaissance and took on Wild Weasel roles. It finally left service in 1996.
The F-4E was used by the Thunderbirds of the USAF, and the F-4J was used by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, making the F-4 Phantom the only aircraft used by both flight demonstration teams.
Aside from the U.S., the Phantom was adopted by about 11 other countries. The Israeli armed forces made broad use of the Phantom in the Arab-Israeli conflicts. Iran used its large fleet of Phantoms in the Iran-Iraq war.
It was the largest produced American supersonic aircraft, with about 5,195 units produced from 1958 to 1981.
The F-4 Phantom still remains in service in nations such as Iran, Iraq, South Korea, Turkey, and Greece as of 2018, 60 years after its first flight.